Monday, January 14, 2008

back to the dye pot

I've been dabbling with dyeing again, inspired by a book that I'll talk about below. But first, let's cut straight to the dyeing.

I decided to try kool-aid dyeing because I was working on two 'commissions' (a hat for a friend and socks for my sister) in colors that I can't reliably get (yet!) from my natural dyes. For the hat, I wanted to dye an alpaca/wool blend a soft ferny green. I managed to get it by adding a bit of grape to lemon-lime. This photo is washed out with too much Arizona sun, but you can get a sense of the final skein along with my shade samples: lemon-lime (acid green), lemon-lime with a bit of grape(olive), and lemon-lime with too much grape (icky brown).

For the socks, I needed a deep, shocking red. I got the color from black cherry with a little cherry added in the end. It took twice as many packets as I'd expected to get the color saturation that I wanted, but it was worth it! It's so yummy looking I can hardly stand it. The samples in front, by the way, are cherry, black cherry, and grape.

Now, I'm the first to acknowledge that Kool-Aid is the antithesis of my green ethics and aesthetics. But, man, was it easy to dye with. I just heated up some water in my dye pot, soaked the yarn while the water heated, took the yarn out to stir in the kool-aid, and plunked it back in until it soaked up the dye. There was no complicated mordanting, no careful measuring, no uneasiness about using toxic chemicals in the kitchen, no hours of simmering at certain temperatures. I'll definitely play with it again.

That said, it doesn't feed my soul like dyeing with plants. I'm starting to tinker with new plants. Here are three yellows from plants that I can 'wildcraft' in my neighborhood of central Phoenix: from the top, Mexican Marigold, Rosemary, and Eucalyptus. The colors are flatter than the rich, golden yellows that I used to get from the goldenrod, marigold, and rudbeckia in my Vermont garden. But it's a start!

And now for the book. I got guidance on kool-aid and the idea of dyeing with eucalyptus from a new dyeing book: The Yarn Lover's Guide to Hand Dyeing, by Linda La Belle. I LOVE this book. Most of the dye books that I have just give basic dyeing recipes, perhaps with a photo or two of the raw material, dyepot, or dyed yarn. This book gives photos of every step for all kinds of complicated dyeing techniques: kettle-dyeing, handpainting, space-dyeing for self-striping, cold-pad dyeing, microwave dyeing, etc.

She shows you what the final yarn looks like as well as how it looks knitted up into a garment -- super useful, since the final knitted garment is often *very* hard to envision from the skein. The patterns that she's written for the handdyed yarns are simple enough to show off the dyed yarn, but with just enough of a twist to make them special. To top it off, she also has interviews with several of my most-admired handdyers, including Darlene Hayes of Nature's Palette and Becky Weed and Katey Plymesser at Thirteen Mile Farm, who focus on natural dyes. I wish she'd gone into a bit more depth on the toxicity of different dyes, and I also wish she'd added more about using natural dye extracts in addition to dyeing from raw materials. But these are minor quibbles that speak to my own idiosyncratic interests. Overall the book is a pleasure to read and a treasure trove of technical information. I'm definitely inspired to expand my dyeing techniques - expect to start seeing hand-painting in the near future!


Lucette said...

just discovered your blog recently. Love the colours of your handdyed yarns.

Rosemary said...

Hello! I followed you here from the message you left on my blog - you visited my post about natural dyeing, and now I know why! Here is the reply I posted, in case you didn't save that link -

Hi evergreenknits, yes, we used raw materials. For the cochineal, we used dried bugs, which we boiled for a while then ran through a fine seive. The Weld was fresh, green material which Leisl grew in her garden. The other stuff was dried and ground or chipped by the supplier - one of the dyestuffs looked like sawdust which I sweep up off of my woodworking shop. Gotta start saving that stuff and boiling it, eh? It was a wonderfully fun class, and Allie is offering it again, so check out for more information, should you want to take the class. It was really informative and terrifically "hands on" as you can see from the photos. Thanks! Rosemary from